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White paper writer tip #3: Plan your work

Remember the old chestnut to “plan your work, and work your plan?”

That certainly applies to white paper writers.

Why? Just consider most other professions.

photo of hands on a paper doing white paper planning

Does a surgeon go into the operating room—without reviewing the patient’s chart?

Does a golfer tee up his first drive in the U.S. Open—without playing a few rounds on the course first?

Does a builder start hammering nails—without taking a careful look at the blueprints?

So should a writer start on a white paper just by typing away on the first draft? Of course not!

Planning is important

Planning is critical for any complex project.

And a full-length white paper is one of the most complex and ambitious projects in content marketing.

The final document is 10 or 12 pages long. Depending on its flavor, that white paper will include:

  • The most powerful highlights of a certain product (backgrounder)
  • The most provocative statements about a certain issue (numbered list)
  • The best thinking on how to solve an industry problem (problem/solution)

Creating a truly engaging long-form document that covers all this material is a big challenge.

I’m sorry to say that most white papers fall short. Why do you think that is?

I believe the most common reason for the gap between the goals and the results achieved from most white papers is a lack of planning.

That’s right: The difference between success and failure often comes down to whether you drew up a white paper plan.

Planning helps everyone

For B2B copywriters, a white paper plan helps you to engage a prospect, define the project, and manage it more successfully.

For B2B marketers, a white paper plan helps you to engage a writer, define your project, and understand your role in completing it successfully.

For both parties, a white paper plan is a low-risk, low-cost deliverable that helps you get a feel for working with one another.

A plan gives you a realistic overview of your white paper project and what it will take to get it done.

Your plan is a kind of “constitution” that spells out the terms of reference for your white paper. You can refer to it throughout the project for guidance.

And a white paper plan will save time, help you avoid the ole’ scrap-and-rework, and help resolve any differences of opinion on the direction of the project.

Who wouldn’t want something that can do all that?

What’s in a white paper plan

An effective white paper plan includes all the following:

  • The primary goal for the document
  • The target audience(s) and where they are in the sales funnel (aka customer journey)
  • The call to action
  • The ideal flavor
  • The target keywords for SEO
  • A couple possible titles to be tweaked as you go
  • An official list of reviewers
  • A list of background available from the client
  • Likely sources for further research
  • The writing tool to prepare the text, usually Microsoft Word
  • The design tool used to design the pages, usually Adobe inDesign
  • A realistic schedule for completing the project, or a real-world deadline that must be met

Does all that sound exhausting?

You may be wondering how you can possibly gather all this information. Won’t that take days and days?

And how will you ever assemble all this into a workable document… won’t it be 10 pages long?

Well, no. You can complete a white paper plan in a couple of days, based on a single phone call between the client and the writer, plus a little further research.

And you can wrap it all up in 2 to 4 pages… if you know how.

But explaining how to do this will take me more words than I can fit in here.

To learn more about white paper plans, watch this free training video.

A new course on White Paper Plans

screenshot of white paper plan video

This video is a preview of a course on white paper plans that I developed with my friend and colleague Ed Gandia of B2B Launcher… the blog for high-income business writing.

There’s plenty of good information in this video: More than 20 minutes’ worth, in fact.

If you’d like even more, I recommend the full course. In it, I’ll show you how I price, sell, research, prepare, and deliver my white paper plans.

I’ll reveal exactly how you can use white paper plans to gain a competitive edge over other writers, even if they have more experience.

And I’ll give you two actual plans I created for my clients, along with the resulting white papers. You can see for yourself how these plans set the foundation for the completed white papers.

Learning how to do effective white paper plans will help you land more business, complete better white papers with fewer headaches, and earn more money.

In fact, you can earn $500 to $900 extra on every white paper you write from now on. That means this course will pay for itself several times over, the very first time you sell a white paper plan to a prospect.

To find out more, here’s that link again.


See tip #4 in this series on how dreaming up graphics can be a big plus to any white paper.


Do you use white paper plans? Have you found them helpful? Please leave your comment below.

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About Gordon Graham

Worked on 320+ white papers for clients from Silicon Valley to Switzerland, on everything from choosing enterprise software to designing virtual worlds for kids, for clients from tiny startups to 3M, Google, and Verizon. Wrote White Papers for Dummies which earned 60+ 5-star ratings on Amazon. Won 16 awards from the Society for Technical Communication. Named AWAI 2019 Copywriter of the Year.

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